Saturday, 5 February 2011

Education Matters: Let Cambodia teach us a lesson

via CAAI

By Dan Kimber
February 3, 2011

My column this week was going to be about the Glendale Teachers Assn.’s vote to oppose the school bond coming up for a vote on April 5, but I’ll put it off for a week or two as things continue to unfold.

I’m trying to understand both the school district and the union’s positions knowing full well that both sides, when all is said and done, have the best interests of our children at heart. That should be acknowledged and never far from the minds of union and district officials before they allow economic issues to divide them.

The union is fighting to reclaim furlough days that will substantially reduce teachers’ incomes. The district wants to avoid future layoffs and furlough days. The union wants to reduce class size, which has increased over the years to intolerable, educationally unsound levels.

The district cannot commit millions of dollars to that end when it does not know how much further the state will be cutting into its budget. The union’s “no vote” was actually a rep council vote and is not necessarily representative of the 1,400 teachers in the district. Ultimately, the people will decide whether Measure S passes, and that is how it should be. Tune in next week for the full story.

For now, if I may switch gears entirely, I’d like to use the rest of this space to plug a book just out. It’s written by an old friend and colleague, Pierre Odier, and is titled “Cambodia Angkor, A Lasting Legacy.”

Some of you may recall from my having mentioned this man in previous articles that he has dedicated a good part of his life to searching out and documenting people on this Earth who have been forgotten, lost in time, swept up and discarded by a modern world uninterested in preserving old ways and traditions, cast aside by contemporary societies who have come to regard indigenous populations as irrelevant.

In Cambodia, those attitudes extend to people whose ancient traditions and rich cultural heritage have been almost completely obliterated by the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge. (Millions of people were massacred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979).

Pierre’s book details some of that history, but it is more about a certain children’s center/landmine museum that today uses its meager resources to relieve the suffering of more than 50,000 children whose bodies have been torn apart by land mines left behind by the cruelest regime that has ever existed in all of human history. Estimates are that there are millions more unexploded land mines waiting to maim and cripple countless more people, the most common victims being young children.

Pierre’s book is dedicated to these children. Any and all proceeds from its sale will go the Cambodia Landmine Museum/Children’s Center that tends to children with little hope for a better future, who having strayed from safe paths and cleared roadways have had arms and legs blown off; children who have been abandoned by their families and left by their government to fend for themselves; children who have absolutely nowhere to turn for help.

Most of you reading this will be doing so from a vantage point worlds away from the people and culture described in this book. And from that safe distance, where access to information has never been easier, where our global interconnectedness has never been so extensive, we can learn all about a troubled nation and a tragic people. We can teach our children about man’s inhumanity to man and set the record straight about who did what to whom, but the lesson should not end there.

The real lesson of Cambodia is found in the people who have survived a deeply troubled past, who have been subjected to indescribable atrocities, who have suffered inhumanity that most of can only imagine — but whose irrepressible spirit survives in spite of it all.

It is that spirit that is celebrated in my friend Pierre’s book, and if any of you reading this are looking to affirm your faith in our common humanity, are seeking a purely good cause to put a few of your spare dollars, and receive a visually stunning book at the same time, here’s the link:

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at .

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